Clients must ‘step up to the plate’ on agency collaboration says UM’s Mat Baxter

Mat BaxterClients who do not delegate clear responsibilities to their roster of agencies are causing a “complete shitfight” amongst them according to UM CEO Mat Baxter.

Speaking on a panel about the battle between different types of agency in the owned and earned media space at Mumbrella360 today Baxter called on clients to “step up to the plate” to stop what fellow panelist Matthew Gain described as a “knife fight in a phone box”.

“Clients absolve themselves of a lot of responsibility that really they should be taking on and they should be a lot clearer on,” said Baxter.

“If you leave a bunch of companies in a competitive marketplace that have greyness in their remits and offer services that cross over, unsupervised, with no clear roles and responsibilities or agenda for management process for integration, then the whole thing becomes a complete shitfight.”

“It’s no coincidence that the most integrated campaigns with the best ideas are coming out of clients who have a very strong sense of leadership in how they manage their agency partners,” Baxter said.

“That goes for the Unilevers and Coca-Colas of the world: they’re very clear. There’s a swim lane for everybody. Everyone’s working to delivering a great campaign at the end that’s integrated, but everybody knows thats where their remit begins and ends. Without that, the whole things implodes.”

Baxter’s comments follow UM’s decision to reposition as a “creative connections agency”, as revealed by Mumbrella in February.

“Anyone can have a great idea. You don’t need to be a PR or creative agency to have a creative idea that generates earned media. Media, PR and digital agencies can all have a great idea and if a great idea generates earned media, then everyone is in the earned media business,” Baxter said.

“We have the skill sets. Yes, we’ve got to enhance what we do and add new talent and diversify even more. But we’ve already got campaigns in market that have done more in the earned media space than they have in the paid media space.”

Edelman chief operating officer Matthew Gain said the creep into PR, which had been seen as “black voodoo” by other agencies, was a recent thing, and paraphrased former STW executive Chris Savage admitting it was a “knife fight in a phone box”.

He added: “The one thing I think will stop people from buying PR ideas from a media agency are the PR managers in house, because they always think through what’s the worst possible scenario that can play out, but that’s something people who don’t come from a PR mindset are going to struggle with, and it will take a long time before a business function which is inherantly conservative takes that on”.

Droga5 executive creative director Steve Coll said that competition was a “wonderful thing”, but that it needed to be kept out of the implementation stage.

“In terms of ideas it doesn’t matter who comes up with the idea. The best idea should win. That’s good for clients and it’s good for clients customers. But when it comes to execution, you do not want your media agency trying to plan your PR disaster plan,” he said.

“The best collaboration and the best roster agencies work within a really clearly defined setup that the clients has set from the beginning. If that allows the best idea to come to the fore, no matter who it’s from, competition around that is good for everyone.”

The panel took its title from a blog post by digital strategist Karalee Evans on the “great convergence” of media and creative agencies.

Evans told the audience that the “paid, owned and earned” descriptors for advertising were outdated.

“Social was never free. Because you always had to have content, things to say, and people to manage and grow it – and that costs money,” Evans said.

“Great content and great creative rises to the top all the time and that was always the case. It was never free.”

One Green Bean co-founder Anthony Freedman said the “creative” title for agencies and professionals discouraged a holistic approach to creativity.

He added: “Creativity is by no means the sole prevail of one group of people with that title on the door.

“Going back some time, in an ad agency – an idea coming from someone other than the creative team was not necessarily very welcomed. It was a sort of thing that showed a disrespect for the upper echelon of the pecking order of agency.

“So you end up with a bunch of people who think their role is not to add to any creative thinking whatsoever – that it’s to carry the bag, pay the taxi, pick up the bar tag or whatever – they post-rationalise the idea. I think that’s a very damaging thing.”

Jack Fisher


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